Winona artist says he was first to swim Mississippi

curmanoA Navy vet who claims to be the first American to swim the entire length of the Mississippi River (see previous post) is wrong, a Minnesota man insists.

Chris Ring completed his swim on Friday, honoring the sacrifices of Gold Star families.

And that’s fine, Billy Curmano says, but he’s not the first, he said in an email this weekend, proving his accomplishment with a newspaper story from 1997.

I swam from the source of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico finishing my journey in 1997. There have been lots of news reports and publications documenting this project including the AP. MN Public Radio did several interviews. Not to take anything away from this gentleman’s achievement, but I am an American and a combat wounded Vietnam veteran.

Photo: Bill Curmano via Facebook.

Fair enough. But there’s an asterisk to the mark. He did it over 11 summers, according to a profile this year in the Winona Daily News.

The Mississippi River swim alone took more than 250 swimming days, spread out over 11 summers. To this day, Curmano is the only human being known to have completed it.

“It’s enough time that you understand this is a serious endeavor,” Wilson said.

And while he is singularly committed to his work, Curmano makes himself approachable at the same time.

“He’s funny, too,” Wilson said, adding, “They’re hilarious, absurdist ideas.”

Another standout element of Curmano’s work is his attention to documenting performances for future reference.

For larger works, like “Swimming the River,” Curmano did re-performances, acting out the highlight reel of his swim in a plastic kiddie pool for audiences in Milwaukee and Madison in a work called “Muck Minnow the Gill Boy.” He has also turned three of his projects into documentary films.

Curmano, a performance artist, swam the length of the Mississippi to call attention to its declining water quality.

Related: Chris Ring on Monday’s CBS This Morning.